One evening, the son and I were milling around the kitchen making dinner. It was one of those rare evenings for no reason. Like a short pause between tides. The winter months fading and yawning before waking into energetic spring. The son was working on a school project on Egypt on the dining table while I pottered around with the onions and spices chattering of this and that.
These are some of my favorite times.
Finally, the curry simmering on the stove, I went and sat by him at the dining table peering into his notes for the project.
He had done a sincere job, researching diligently and writing more notes than was required. That made me proud of him and I said so. He smiled and then it turned into a grin, and asked, “Shall we watch TV today then? Just today – you know as a gift?” The little rascal!
I threw my head back and laughed, almost ready to yield. What else was there to do? It was rainy and dark outside. School work done, just the two of us at home. But I caught myself in time. Somehow, it did not feel like a good time to zone out in front of the Television. This rare, quixotic feeling of solitude in each other’s company. So, I shook my head and said no. I saw the twinge of disappointment in his face anticipating indulgence just a moment ago, and said, “How about we read something interesting and funny out to each other?” I said pointing to The Thrifty Guide to Medieval Times – A Handbook for Time Travelers – By Jonathan W Stokes.
He agreed enthusiastically – and I loved him for it. A petulant fuss would’ve ruined the evening. This carefree acceptance of an alternate plan was amazing.
I started reading about Doctors in Medieval Europe and we both shuddered a bit. The book was written in a manner that was just enough gruesome and just enough brevity to stave off utter misery, and a good deal of humor where you least expect it. So, we had a good time rotating dismay, shock, horror and laughter in turns.
On our recent trip to Europe, there was many a time when the mind wandered back a few centuries to Medieval Europe. While we stood there admiring the relics and artifacts saved from those truly Dark Ages, I remember thinking how we were able to passively look at the best of the Dark Ages through a museum visitor’s lens. Setting aside the utter misery of the times. Art truly did pull humankind through those times if only by a shred.
I remember a passionate History teacher from our school days who told us about the Dark Ages, Crusades, the endless years of disease and religious warfare. As children these were disturbing. But they were also distant echoes from the past in a geography barely imaginable by school children in the South of India at the time. Many of us had never traveled past our own country or state.
But as life went on, I understood more and more of the horrifying acts of evil that humankind is capable of: the Dark Ages become a euphemism for unspeakable things. We had heard of witch hunting but when one finds out that Pope Innocent was responsible for making it a bloody sport and sent 1000’s of innocent women to their shrieking deaths, what excuse is there really for religion or piety or righteousness?
A Handbook for Time Travelers – By Jonathan W Stokes
Over the next few evenings, we followed a similar routine. We read about
- Jeanne de Clisson – the French pirate nicknamed the Lioness of Brittany, who you definitely want to steer clear of, if invited to dinner at her place.
- The brutality of Genghis Khan – there truly are no words, though there are thousands of words written about him.
- Marco Polo and his explorations that gave many people a breath of fresh adventure and unheard of places – a little bit of magic in their otherwise terrible lives.
- The ferocity of Attila the Hun
- The deadly female fighters of the Middle Ages
- Blance of Castile, Queen of France
- Countess Pertonilla of Leicester
- Nicola de la Haye
- Empress Matilda
- Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem
- The Order of the Hatchet
It sometimes takes books such as these to journey to another horrible time and space in order to appreciate what we have now. I was grateful for that.
It also reminded me of the children’s book, Meanwhile Back on Earth . . .: Finding Our Place Through Time and Space
- 1000 years ago – when there was a conflict between x and y
- 500 years ago – war between rats and zebras
- 100 years ago – war between everyone
The history of our planet in conflict. It makes for sobering reading, but along with Oliver Jeffers’ artwork, a required reading too.
“Nice to see what all we did in spite of all the fighting huh?” , said the son, pointing to his project on Egypt, and pulling me back from my thoughts. He had written about the culture, ways of life and the many achievements of the ancient Egyptian civilization, and I nodded. We truly are a species worth studying. The sheer potential for good. The very qualities of good fanning our bad: ambition for instance.
How do we constantly remind ourselves that we are remarkable in our creative quests, and not use it for anything destructive? But don’t they go hand-in-hand? I peered at the dancing Nataraja statue in the home symbolizing just that, and felt very humble indeed. Nothing new. We are all just discovering and learning. Just figuring out how to belong on our Earth.